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U.S. Envoy Seeks China's Help with N. Korea

Stephen Bosworth, U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, talks to reporters upon his arrival at Incheon international airport, west of Seoul, Jan. 4, 2011.
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BEIJING - A top U.S. envoy sought China's help Thursday in easing the threat of war on the Korean peninsula, hoping to gain insights about a Chinese official's recent meeting with North Korea's absolute leader, Kim Jong Il.

Stephen Bosworth met with Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun, Senior Representative for Korean Peninsula Affairs Wu Dawei and Wang Jiarui, director of the International Department of the Communist Party's Central Committee. Bosworth was expected to travel to Japan later Thursday.

"Ambassador Bosworth and Chinese counterparts had useful consultations on how to coordinate moving forward in dealing with North Korea," a U.S. Embassy statement said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei confirmed Bosworth's meetings. "The sides agreed to remain in contact on maintaining peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and over the six-party talks," Hong told a news conference. The talks on North Korea's nuclear program involve the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia, but have been on hold for nearly two years.

Bosworth had been expected to ask China for information on last month's talks in Pyongyang between North Korean leader Kim and Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo, Beijing's top foreign policy official. China has come under growing pressure to push North Korea, its close ally, to change its behavior after the communist country shelled a South Korean island late last year, killing four people.

North Korea will be a key issue during Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to Washington later this month.

Bosworth met Wednesday in Seoul with South Korean officials and said he was hopeful for "serious negotiations" soon on the North.

In Washington on Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi held "lengthy discussions" on North Korea and ironed out details of Hu's visit Jan. 19, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.

Crowley said both the United States and China want stability on the Korean peninsula. "Neither one of us wants to see the emergence of a North Korea that is a nuclear state," he said. "We hope that coming out of the visit and the discussions with President Hu Jintao we would have a consensus on the best way to move forward."

Also on Wednesday, North Korea called for "unconditional and early" talks with South Korea to end months of tensions. Seoul quickly dismissed the offer, carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency, as insincere and said it was waiting for an apology for two deadly attacks blamed on Pyongyang.

"North Korea previously issued statements like this early in the year ... they are normally done as part of (a) propaganda campaign toward the South," a Unification Ministry official told the Reuters news agency.
"We do not consider this is as a serious proposal for dialogue. It is not even in the correct and appropriate format."

Tensions between the two Koreas have been at their highest level in years since North Korea showered artillery on a South Korean-held island near their disputed maritime border in November, killing four South Koreans. The attack was the first on a civilian area since the 1950-53 Korean War, and occurred in waters not far from the spot where a torpedo sank a South Korean warship eight months earlier, killing 46 sailors.

The attack on the warship was also blamed on the North - an allegation the country denies.

But North Korea has made some conciliatory moves recently. On New Year's Day, the government issued a lengthy statement calling for warmer ties and the resumption of joint projects with South Korea. Pyongyang, eager for food and fuel assistance, has said it wants stalled nuclear disarmament talks to restart.

Washington and Seoul have said the North must first fulfill past nuclear disarmament commitments before talks can resume.